Thursday, February 15, 2007

Public Buildings

I bring you a story of a huge rip off about to happen and I only hope that it can be prevented.

The minority Conservative government is beginning to play the same games that Mike Harris, Ernie Eves and their PC brothers played in Ontario. The first step is to convince you that you pay too much in taxes. They will give you a small tax break and then give huge tax breaks to corporations. At this point they have a problem: how can they balance the budget? In Ontario, the answer came easy. They simply lied about being financially responsible and let the provincial debt balloon out of control. To make it less than completely obvious that they were bankrupting us and our children, however, they also sold off a lot of our property.

Yes, you heard me say it: our property.

You see, the government doesn't actually own anything. If you think about it for a moment, whenever we say that the government owns something, we really mean that it owned by we, the people. Communally, it belongs to all of us. The parks, the buildings, the police cars and the hospitals are all owned by all of us. What the PCs did in Ontario was to sell off our assets - highways, crown corporations, you name it - in order to give the appearance that the budget wasn't grossly underfunded. Of course, they never once balanced a budget anyway, but somehow the supposedly left-wing media failed to mention this to us.

Moving along, Harper's federal Conservatives (no "Progressive" prefix here), are going to do the same thing with our federal buildings. Should this succeed, be ready for more. They're going to sell off $1.5B worth of buildings to private companies and then lease the buildings back using 10 to 25 year contracts. Now riddle me this: how are these private companies going to make money? Well, they're going to have to maintain the buildings and make a profit. The profit, of course, is locked in by the lease agreement. Somehow, I should believe that a private company is so efficient that it can do all of the maintenance, make a profit and have the total cost come out cheaper than if the government did the maintenance itself.

I've worked for private companies. I've never found any of them to be miraculously efficient. What they are good at, though, is giving people lower pay, breaking unions, cutting benefits and such. Is that where our savings comes from? A race to the bottom in quality of life?

Why else is this a rip off? The Conservative government will report this $1.5B sale in the budget as part of the "surplus", thus looking like good stewards of our treasury. The real cost won't be realized until the leases we're paying on these buildings vastly exceed the maintenance costs. By then the Conservatives will be out of government and someone will look bad raising taxes to cover the lease.

Anything else? Well, there's this trick you can play while you're in government. You give a sweet, cherry, no-bid contract to some company that will make tens or hundreds of millions from it. Then, when you leave government, you get a nice 6-figure "consultant's job" for the rest of your life. You can probably ask the Right Honourable Gordon O'Connor, our current Minister of Defence, about it. He used to be a lobbyist for several aerospace and defence companies.

So, yeah, this is a big rip off. They're selling our property, mortgaging our future, and lining their own beds with our ill-gotten gains. Meanwhile, they'll try to bill it all as prudent fiscal management when they show us the temporary "surplus" in the budget.


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